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Waiters' top tactics to get bigger tips

Upselling, crouching next to tables, smiley faces on the check are all part of a smart server's arsenal.

By Karen Datko Sep 26, 2009 2:46AM

Do you feel warm and fuzzy -- and more generous -- when your waiter draws a smiley face on your check? Do you feel a bond when your server engages you in chitchat? According to Richard at Student Scrooge, these are devices waiters employ to pump up the tip.

When he researched them, Richard said, "I had a whole series of flashbacks to all of these moments at the end of a meal where I undoubtedly was influenced by some of these strategies. Is tipping some sort of game of psychological warfare?" 

His tipping post actually has two parts. In the first, Richard discussed a New York Times article about a San Diego restaurant owner who banned tips in favor of an 18% service charge -- just under the average tip. That charge is shared by employees, including the often-overlooked kitchen staff. (It's also fully taxed, unlike a tip.)

There's a lot of money involved in tipping, a custom long ago imported to the U.S. from Europe, where it's no longer the norm. The NYT article says:

Each year, according to the economist Ofer Azar, diners hand over some $42 billion in tips at the nation's full-service restaurants, which employ 2.6 million waiters, most of whom rely on tips for the bulk of their incomes.

Richard prefers tipping to a service charge (some of his readers wondered why restaurants don't simply pay all employees a decent wage), and, for his second post, did additional research about waiter tactics.

Among them: upselling, smiling, crouching next to the table, putting a "thank you" or smiley face on the check, touching the customer and telling a joke.

He said, "With the exception of upselling, I think most of these strategies are perfectly fair game, and I'll probably continue to respond to them on some level."

Several readers who've worked in the trade confirmed the accuracy of his observations. "Celticbuffy" said, "As a server off and on for the last 20 years I can attest that these really do work. As for upselling, I hate doing it but it works about half of the time. It can be as simple as 'Did you save any room for our scrumptious apple crisp?'"

Published Oct. 21, 2008



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